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Buccaneers of the Week: vs. Pittsburgh

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Which five players were Tampa Bay’s best in Monday’s 30-27 loss to Pittsburgh?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

After every game, we’ll break down the Buccaneers’ top five players of the week. Point values will be distributed to each, which will then be added up for our weekly Buccaneers of the Week Standings.

Despite a nightmare of a first half on Monday night, the Buccaneers barely came up short against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 30-27 loss was Tampa Bay’s first of the season, but there was no shortage of exciting moments as the team tried to climb back from a 30-10 halftime deficit. Let’s get into our top five Bucs from week three.

Honorable Mentions

This week’s honorable mentions would likely have made the top five if not for a glaring mistake or two. Chris Godwin caught five passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, but some big drops (including a couple in the end zone) and a costly fumble kept him out of this week’s top five.

Gerald McCoy was pretty disruptive throughout the night, finishing with 12 sack and 1 12 tackles for loss. However, a (questionable) roughing the passer call tarnished his night, as did missing a sack late in the game. With the Buccaneer defense needing a stop, McCoy got into the backfield on second down, but failed to finish. As a result, Ben Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a first down that iced the game.

Justin Evans came up with an early interception to set up Tampa Bay’s first touchdown. Through three weeks, he has unsurprisingly been the secondary’s most consistent performer.

No. 5: Kwon Alexander (One point)

Kwon Alexander finds himself on this list for the second straight week after another strong performance. He totaled eight tackles (five solo) and came up with 12 tackle for loss. The intensity and leadership that the fourth-year linebacker brings to the defense was on full display this week. With the bright lights of Monday Night Football on him, he appeared to be flying around to the ball even more than usual, if that’s possible.

Alexander was a big part of the run-stopping effort, one that looked pretty strong until Pittsburgh’s final drive. Dealing with James Conner isn’t easy, but No. 58 played a part in holding him to 61 yards on 15 carries. The pass defense struggled throughout the night, something that has been a theme in all three games this season. With that in mind, it’s possible that we’ll see more blitzes called for Kwon in the coming weeks. Regardless, he will more than likely return to this list multiple times throughout the rest of the year. He just consistently plays at a high level.

No. 4: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Two points)

After his performance in the first half, it was crazy to think that Ryan Fitzpatrick would be on this week’s list. Amazingly enough, some Fitzmagic reappeared over the final 30 minutes to get him in the top five for a third consecutive week. He just couldn’t earn the top spot this week after throwing three interceptions in the game’s first two quarters. Those turnovers, one of which went for an easy pick six, put Tampa Bay in a huge hole. The veteran was almost able to get out of it, but came up just short.

After the first 30 minutes of the game, it seemed like the magic was gone. It seemed obvious that the Bucs would have to start Jameis Winston on Sunday against Chicago, even on a short week. But Fitzpatrick did what he could to bring the team back. He ended the night with 411 yards and three touchdowns to three interceptions on 30-of-50 passing. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three straight games. He might start next week against the Bears. He might not. Either way, what a ride these three weeks were for the journeyman.

No. 3: Lavonte David (Three points)

In case anyone forgot, Lavonte Davis is a really good player. He was all over the field on Monday, racking up nine tackles (eight solo) and THREE tackles for loss. He was a huge part of the defense’s second-half effort in which they shut out the Steelers over 30 minutes. With the emergence of Kwon Alexander over the last few years, it’s probably been pretty easy for some to forget just how good David is. He is one of the main pillars of a Tampa Bay defense that badly needs its front seven to produce.

The three tackles for loss from David were all huge, obviously, but the timing of a couple of them made him an even bigger star on Monday. It felt like whenever the Bucs needed a stop, it was No. 54 that was there to deliver. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level this year. If he’s still somehow being overlooked by the rest of the league, he shouldn’t be for long. His first appearance on this list is well-deserved, that’s for sure.

No. 2: Jason Pierre-Paul (Four points)

When it comes to consistent production from Buccaneer defenders through the first three weeks of the season, the list starts with Jason Pierre-Paul. When the Giants traded him back in March, he surely felt some added motivation to prove that he still has a lot left in his career. In three games, it’s clear that he has more in the tank. Following his debut on Buccaneers of the Week at No. 4 after his performance against the Eagles, he’s up to No. 2 this week.

JPP was electric against Pittsburgh. He picked up five tackles (all solo) with two sacks (plus another tackle for loss) and four quarterback hits. He was in Ben Roethlisberger’s face all night, which is something the Bucs needed. The secondary was overmatched against the likes of Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald (????). So, it was up to the front seven to apply some pressure. The group as a whole tallied three sacks, 10 tackles for loss and nine hits on the quarterback. Without Pierre-Paul, that effort is significantly weaker. He has been Tampa Bay’s best defensive lineman through the first three games. If he keeps it up, he might just be the first Buc to record double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005.

No. 1: Mike Evans (Five points)

The Tampa Bay offense largely went through Mike Evans on Monday night. He is the team’s No. 1 receiver, so that isn’t too big of a surprise. But to see him pick up his second 100-yard game in three weeks was a lot of fun. He caught six passes for 137 yards and what looked to be a crucial touchdown in the loss. Even with the number of talented pass-catchers all over the field for the Bucs, Evans has been a huge key in the strong play of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has been a steady presence, coming through right when the Bucs needed him most.

With Jameis Winston coming back sooner rather than later, Evans will definitely adjust. His connection with the young quarterback is one of the biggest parts of the Buccaneer offense. But as evidenced in these first three weeks (and back in 2014 when he was catching passes from Josh McCown and Mike Glennon), it doesn’t really matter who is under center for Tampa Bay. Evans will put his head down and produce either way. His consistency is something the Bucs will be relying on for the rest of this season and for years to come. This is his third week on this list and his first at the top of it.

Updated Buccaneers of the Week Standings through week three:

  1. Ryan Fitzpatrick— 12 points
  2. Mike Evans— 10 points
  3. DeSean Jackson— 7 points
  4. Jason Pierre-Paul— 6 points
  5. Kwon Alexander— 4 points
  6. Lavonte David— 3 points
  7. Offensive Line— 2 points
  8. Vernon Hargreaves— 1 point